Foraging For Arnica

Sunny and bright like miniature sunflowers, you have probably spotted heart-leaved arnica (Arnica cordifolia) while out exploring in late spring/early summer. Arnica can be found in a wide variety of landscapes but can usually be found as a pioneer species in the year following a wildfire or growing under the shade of young conifers in replanted cut blocks. You may have just passed it off as a pretty wildflower, but arnica’s soothing qualities make it a must-gather on any outdoorsperson’s list – after a long day out in the woods, there is nothing better than treating your sore muscles to a pain-relieving arnica salve.

Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.
Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.

Unlike many other plants that can be dried and preserved for use later on, arnica needs to be utilized within a few hours of picking as the bright yellow heads turn into a pile of white fluff if left to dry completely. A simple way to harness the power of arnica is by infusing the flowers in an oil of your choice and creating a salve to sooth achy, sore muscles – simply let the arnica flowers wilt for a several hours to release some of the excess moisture, then put into a jar and cover the flowers completely with oil. Place cheesecloth overtop of the jar to allow to mixture to breath and then let sit for a couple of weeks. Strain the flowers, and you are let with an arnica-infused oil that could be used as is or turned into a salve.

If making a salve, the basic ratio is one cup of infused oil to two tablespoons of beeswax. If you want thicker salve, especially in the summertime when the weather is hot, you may need to add more beeswax to keep things solidified.

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Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.
Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.

While arnica has amazing properties when applied topically, you should avoid applying the oil or salve onto broken skin and avoid putting heat on an area that has been treated with arnica salve/oil. Do not take arnica internally, as it can cause symptoms such as nausea, shakiness, and dizziness; in large quantities, it can be fatal.